Meetings and You

Chris Wilson sent out a short missive back when he was a Bendyworker titled “Meetings and You.” In it, he offers a “refresher on Meetings 101.” In the interest of improving meetings everywhere, here it is reproduced (with permission) in its entirety. We hope you like it!

Hey all,

I’ve been thinking about how we run meetings here at Bendyworks. I’m not just talking about the various kinds of meetings: Retros, Nextros, Stand-ups, Brainstorming sessions, or Storycarding. Nope, I’m talking about the fact that they are all meetings and so they share the same “meeting DNA.” That is, that while we have lots of experience on how to run these agile-specific sorts of things, we may be missing a brick in the foundation.

Here’s where my thoughts have been leading. We could all use a refresher on meetings 101. Heck I went off and read a bunch of articles on this. How does Google run meetings, how about Apple, how does anyone run a meeting? What I found was that while everybody runs things a bit differently, there are common meeting features that each org. seems to share:

  1. Should we even have it? I would make this step zero if I could. A meeting is a big investment in time and attention. Make sure that it provides value.
    1. Who needs to attend (can we only decide if person X is present?)
  2. Written agenda: it should be firm and it should outline specifically what should be talked about.
    1. Sometimes: it is posted on the wall
    2. Each item should have an associated time
    3. Encouraged: get the agenda to all participants at least 3 days prior to meeting
  3. Next action(s): every person should leave with a clear idea of what to do next.
    1. Sometimes: each action item is directly assigned to a person
    2. Be realistic about accepting responsibilities. It’s good feedback to know that the capacity to complete something doesn’t exist!
  4. Meeting leader: a person to move the meeting along and balance who’s talking
    1. nobody dominates and nobody remains silent
    2. necessary corollary for prev, make sure everyone at the meeting needs to be there. This also suggests that there should be as few people in a meeting as is possible
  5. Take notes: if it was important enough to meet about, it is important that we capture what was discussed
    1. Implies: notes from last meeting should be reviewed & evaluated (what did we accomplish?)
    2. Often: summarized at the end of the meeting
  6. Goal: what do we reasonably expect to accomplish with the meeting?
    1. Gather ideas?
    2. Solve something?
    3. Rarely is it specific implementation or other nitty gritty details those are better handled with pair programming
  7. End on time: this is really part of the agenda, but it is important enough to mention separately
    1. Respect others’ time
    2. Creativity comes from constraints
    3. People can plan effectively around it

There are a bunch of other small details that are also good to pay attention to, but are lesser than the points that I enumerated above:

  • Snacks! Food keeps people from flagging
  • Maintain a “bin” of ideas that weren’t on-topic when they were brought up but that we want to capture (can also be in the notes)
  • Run a prominent timer. A countdown shows how much time is left in the meeting/agenda item
  • Passing a token (already at standups)

My goal here is neither to accuse anyone nor is it to complain about how we’re doing things now. My point is only that we are spending a lot of time in meetings and/or they are rather frequent. I know that we must spend some time, but I would like for us to spend that time wisely. Can we get more out of each minute we spend in a meeting? Can accomplish more?

If you have other ideas about how we can improve here I would love to hear it. I will certainly be using my above points in any meeting I run.



Category: Culture
Tags: Consulting